James's Typewriter Collection
IBM logoIBM Selectric II (type sample)

IBM Correcting Selectric II, 1981I had one of these at work. It was a wonderful machine. But this was in the era of computers so it sat unused most of the time. Selectric IIs are big and take up a lot of room. Since I only rarely needed it, I lent it to another department which wanted it, on condition I could use it when I needed it.

They got rid of it.

This was a decade ago and I'm still angry about it. I've been on the hunt for Selectrics ever since. Many were either too expensive or didn't work. I bought a nice blue one and brought it home; worked for about 10 minutes and jammed. Lots of poking, prodding and research determined the repair was going to be hellish, expensive, and unlikely to succeed from someone with my level of expertise. So it got scrapped. Plus the sound-deadening foam inside was disintegrating. That didn't help anything.

Finally found this one at Eco Thrift in Sacramento, $5. Intact foam. Works. I couldn't get it out of the store fast enough. Got it home and powered it up and — it doesn't print. I tried advancing the ribbon (actually it's carbon tape) but no go. I can see an impression on the paper, so I believe the printer ribbon is no good. I replaced it and still couldn't type. I got so desperate that I read the instruction manual. It was set on Stencil. Push the button and it reset to normal typing mode.

Stencil mode? Really? I grew up when typewriters were still mainstream, when most middle-class households had a manual at least, or portable electric if someone had recently been to college. I have never had to cut a stencil with a typewriter.

So back to the narrative. I don't need one for work anymore. I bought this one largely because I've got a box of Selectric typing elements for it. I'm one of those people who, if I've got accessories for something, want whatever the base product is that the accessories go to. If someone gave me a case of .444 Marlin cartridges, I'd have to buy a rifle chambered for it so I could use them.

This one doesn't go to work; it'll stay here. Every once in a blue moon there are times when you want to type something and the computer printer won't do it (like filling in the form). Or you want to send a note to Tom Hanks (not sure how he feels about electric typewriters). Anyway, it's nice to have around. If only it didn't take up so much space.

Manufactured (according to Typewriter Database) in 1981.

Elements

I have a total of eleven typing elements (aka balls). The number in parentheses is the pitch: 10 is Pica, 12 is Elite.

The following are 88-character balls; they are marked in white lettering and can only be used on Selectric II machines.

Artisan 12 72 (12)
Courier 12 (10 and 12) — one each; 12 pitch has a broken latch
Letter Gothic (12)
Manifold 72 (10)
Orator (10) — I have two of these
Prestige Elite 72 (12)

I also have three for the Selectric III. They have gold lettering and 96 the typeface name, indicating 96-characters on the element.

Letter Gothic 96 (12)
Orator 96 (10)
Script 96 (12)

I am on the lookout for more elements (particularly 88-character types), but won't pay much for them. There are serious collectors (try the Antique Typewriter Classifieds group on Facebook) who may pay more. I just enjoy having different fonts for the fun of it on the rare occasions when I use this typewriter.

Wikipedia has a nice article on the various Selectrics.